Let's Talk About the Brain
Nature's pink and smooshy supercomputer. We live in a modern world that constantly bombards us with stimuli. It is becoming virtually impossible to go throughout your day without being inundated with screens and advertisements. “LOOK HERE”. “BUY THIS”. So how does this constant fight for stimulation affect our brains, and more importantly, how is it affecting our kids?
The human brain stops physically developing around the age 25, this means that up to that age our squishy head computer is constantly booting and rebooting, growing and adapting to the environment around it to better suit you! This is great news because it allows children to intake huge amounts of new information on a daily basis and store it away for later use. But what happens when our brains become over stimulated? In children we see patterns of irritability, impulsiveness and a dramatically decreased attention span.
Today I’m going to fill you in on one of the most tried and true ways to combat that in your kids. Its called "Nature's Rx" and not only is it abundantly available, it’s empirically backed and scientifically proven. Camp Ocean Pines is an institution that is rooted in the natural world. From our outdoor education program to the many outings and exploratory programs encompassed in Summer Camp, it is safe to say that we are in no short supply of Nature's Rx!
Brain Strain: Giving Your Brain the Rest it Needs.
One of the most striking pieces of evidence for children's immersion into nature is the physiological effects that we find on the body when comparing what we call “natural stimuli” and “artificial stimuli.” A 2011 study found that even moderate screen time is associated with decreased blood flow in the back of the retina ( a cardiovascular risk in children) while exposure to nature is associated with healthier cardiovascular . Increased blood flow to the brain leads to better concentration and elevated mental processes. Simply put, children who spend more time exposed to screens have less blood flow to the brain than those kids who are experiencing daily exposure to the natural world. So quite literally, exposing our children to nature leads to better overall health and a lowered risk for cardiovascular problems down the road.
Peace and Pines: Finding Harmony in Nature
I’m sure that we have all felt this at some point; that feeling that comes over you when you are sitting by the ocean or hiking through a beautiful pine forest. You feel calm, balanced, at peace.
When I was in college I was involved in multiple research projects that examined the relationship between what we call “green spaces” and ADHD symptoms, so many of this next
section comes from personal experience and research. The most promising finding is that exposure to green spaces positively affects symptoms REGARDLESS of socioeconomic status, gender or even age. This means that across the board decreasing screen exposure time and increasing natural experiences is impacting our kids in a healthy positive way! The second interesting finding in this study was that regardless of the setting the impacts were the same. This means that we can attribute the benefits to the green spaces themselves not just the fact that children may move more or be in a different environment. Without diving too far into the neurological reasons behind these findings we do know that when children are exposed to nature the chemicals in the brain that regulate emotion and the decision making process tend to shift back to a more balanced state.
At Camp Ocean Pines this is the feeling we strive for with all of our campers. We understand that the “real world” can be pretty crazy for kids these days. That's why everything we do is rooted in the outdoors. From outdoor cooking to shelter building and our infamous hammock tree house. Who knew that spending time hanging out in hammocks could be so beneficial to your mental health?!
From Caterpillar to Butterfly: Confidence is Key
In a recent meta-analysis covering more than 400 youth across the country it was found that a child’s increased sense of self and time spent in a natural environment were directly related. When children were surveyed after spending one week in a natural program they reported increased sense of personal autonomy, improved self-concept, a greater capacity for taking action and being decisive, and dramatic improvements in their interpersonal skills. In a day and age where the media is constantly telling our kids who to be, how to dress and what friends to have it’s reassuring that there are programs out there that support personal growth and self discovery.
At Camp Ocean Pines we take pride in harboring every child’s unique development. A session of camp can truly be a transformative experience for all kids. I have had the absolute honor of watching so many of our campers grow into the strong, independent young adults that are going to change the world some day. So whether it’s tide pooling, hiking along the pacific, or exploring a cove of elephant seals you can rest assured knowing that not only are these activities building self confidence they are shaping your child into the person they will one day be.
Camp Ocean Pines